By Rick Houser –
Growing up on a farm in rural Ohio had it advantages and disadvantages to say the least. To get to walk over the land and experience a large portion of what God had made our part of the earth was more than a pleasure, but truly a privilege to do first hand. I will say that as a boy I walked all over the farms that were ours and all of the ones around us as far as I could possibly travel. The countryside might look the same but one never knew if just one more step in the right direction and something new and unusual might be there just for your finding.
I loved growing up country and will never regret it as long as I live. The way I traveled and visited our neighborhood it might be safe to say I was raised “free range”. This is not to say my parents didn’t have restrictions on me or my whereabouts but it is safe to say that the words “strict” and “my parents” were never used in the same sentence. Along with concern for me, they also showed trust in me and my judgement.
The first thing I was not to do was to travel on the road. It was a county road and in those days there might be a car an hour passing by and with that much heavy traffic it wasn’t safe for a little boy to be near a road. Secondly, I had a time when I could be out away from the house. This was from sunrise until dusk or at least it felt like I was given that much leeway. Third was to tell one of my parents where I was off to. Three pretty easy rules to go by don’t you think? I thought them to be fair rules. Especially the way they were dealt with.
Since I couldn’t walk on the road I would walk through the fields. They could be a little muddy but they got me to where I was headed. Whether it be to Grandma’s place or Vive Winston’s’, Ed and Louise Maus’s or to Cousin Tom Houser’s’ home just up the road, where my cousin Walter would be there to play with. I would walk through a briar patch to see Walt. All of the other mentioned places were places of interest to say the least.
Vive had a parakeet and it was the only one I knew of in captivity. It would sing its little head off. Ed and Louise would feed me and let me look at whatever they were working on. Louise might be sewing or Ed would be working out around the barn. My Grandma’s house was just a place where I got food, flowers and spoiling.
To get to and return from all these places took time and when you are little, short legs carry you slowly and would take longer. (I never really did outgrow those short legs.) The third rule was telling them where I was going. On this one I hedged a little. If I thought the trip might be in question, I would tell the one who I thought wasn’t listening the closest or maybe I just wasn’t as clear as I should have been.
A sunny day was like a call to me to come out and look Mother Nature over some more. I walked several miles of farmland and saw what I felt was of interest to me and some new thingd too. In the spring I would walk around all of our ponds and listen to the frogs and look for tadpoles along the backwaters. In the summer I would walk through a hay field that had just been raked into windrows and follow their paths and smell the newly mowed hay all the time seeing the field in a different view than when it might have been say corn or wheat.
In the fall it could be interesting to gather a bunch of milk weed pods and pull them apart and study their inside fibers. There were so many days when I would just start off in some direction and look at the wonders our world gave us. They probably sound trivial to you all now but when I was out there looking at them usually for the first time, these wonders could and would marvel a little boy.
Some days I was just lonely I guess and wanted to visit the neighbors and listen to new conversations other than those at home and I knew just how glad they would be to see me. I know one summer afternoon I walked over to Ed and Louise Maus’s home and somehow I arrived right at lunchtime. Coincidence? Louise was one of the sweetest ladies I have ever known in my life and generous to a fault. When I knocked on the kitchen door she brought me in and sat me at the table and began dipping up a grand meal of roast beef mashed potatoes, and corn on the cob.
Her husband Ed, who most folks called “Dutch” as he was exactly that, was a man of few words and when he spoke he almost would bark out the words and to a stranger this might startle them. But to me, Ed was anything but a stranger. He was my very close friend and was always great to me. He cranked the old wall phone and said the following, “Madeline, Ricky is here. Gonna feed him and then send him home!” Then abruptly he hung up the phone, came back to the table, and began buttering my ear of corn and offered me a piece of pie. Definitely not a bad person at all.
This was one of the examples of what I found while walking the countryside. It really didn’t matter if I found milkweeds, tadpoles, a parakeet that could sing loudly, or neighbors who were good, kind and hospitable. Being a “free range” little boy granted me the thrill of these experiences and memories that will always be mine.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont and enjoys sharing stories of his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.